"Everything that I have today is due to my love and contribution to cai luong," says cai luong performer Le Van Gan, one of Ho Chi Minh City's young talents in the traditional operatic art.

Viewing Gan performing on stage, many in the audience are deeply moved by the power of his singing.

Since winning high prize at the Golden Bell Contest in 2007, an annual cai luong (reformed opera) singing competition by HCM City Television, Gan said that he had "worked very hard, improving my skills and creativity".

In his mid-20s, the talented Gan has faced challenges luring audiences back to cai luong theatre. He realises that without fans' support, the music will not survive.

Born in a farming family in Tien Giang province, Gan has loved the music genre since an early age.

Gan entered the Golden Bell Contest after he heard that the region's traditional theatre was looking for talented cai luong singers.

"I moved from my hometown to compete in HCM City without support from my family, who believed that becoming a farmer was my destiny," said Gan.

"My second prize Silver Bell opened a door for me," he said.

Gan now works for the prestigious Tran Huu Trang Theatre, performing in dozens of plays and TV shows viewed by thousands of audiences across the country.

"I can earn a good income from my art," he said.

Unlike Gan, Nguyen Binh Trong was a fisherman in Ha Tien province before working as a leading performer in the Kien Giang People Theatre.

"I had my first lessons in singing and performance skills from veteran performer Thanh Nam, who discovered my ability," said Trong, winner of the Golden Bell Contest in 2010.

Both Gan and Trong deeply respected their older colleagues like great stars Vu Linh and Kim Tu Long, but they did not want to live in their shadow.

"To escape the domination of veterans, I have worked hard to demonstrate my own personal style on stage," said Trong, adding that to develop cai luong, young artists need to be innovative on the stage.

Female artists Nguyen Thu Van of Long Xuyen province and Binh Tinh of Long An province are also recognised pioneers in cai luong, who put a new spin on the form.

Their beauty and sweet voices were often their signature attraction.

"I decided to improve my art by studying because I wanted to try to provide some new offerings for theatre lovers, particularly younger audiences," said Van, who now studies at the HCM City Theatre and Cinematography College.

"Through cai luong contests and festivals, we hope troupes can try a new form and discover that the traditional art should be kept alive by young artists," said theatre director Huu Loc, a member of the HCM City Theatre Association.

Loc said cai luong troupes should "create an open environment for their staff to bridge the gap between older and newer ones, giving all artists a chance to show off their creativity and skills".-VNA